In the midst of another round of rigorous campaigning, Bangladesh is gearing up for another national parliamentary election. Most opposition parties are currently engaged in protests against the incumbent government during the election season. However, a significant concern arises when it comes to the selection of candidates, with many political parties in our country often opting for candidates who lack awareness and competence.
Over the past two terms in Parliament, it has been observed that the majority of MPs are not actively involved in legislative activities. Private bills have not been introduced by any parliamentarians during this period. This is disheartening for the democratic system of our country. Therefore, it is crucial to raise awareness and accountability regarding the roles and responsibilities of parliamentarians and the functioning of the Parliament.
The national parliament holds a vital position in our country, with a unique significance. Those who possess knowledge or education should be the ones representing it. The work of parliamentarians is closely related to law formulation and amendment. However, in our country, this concept seems to be reversed. If we look towards other democratic countries, we observe that in any election, potential lawmakers promise changes in policies, amendments, and improvements. Candidates don’t openly declare their intentions, such as building bridges or bringing about developments.
However, in our country, during parliamentary elections, candidates focus more on promises of development without a clear understanding of their actual duties. MPs have primarily focused on local development. However, for local development, there are various government entities, including the local ministries and many other organizations, besides the local government ministry. Even the committees of schools, colleges, and madrasas do not operate outside the direction of MPs. In other words, what MPs do the least is the promotion and amendment of the laws and policies they are primarily responsible for.
According to the rules, if a parliamentarian wishes to introduce a bill, he or she must notify the Speaker at least 15 days in advance. Bills can be either governmental or non-governmental. In reality, among the protected seats in the parliament, very few MPs actually give notices regarding bills. Members of the ruling party generally refrain from giving notices for amendments or modifications to bills, and they often remain silent on the matter. Even though opposing party members may give notices against a bill, many times they do not attend the parliamentary session on the day the bill is passed.
Why is there a lack of enthusiasm among MPs for the legislative process? One possible reason is that the process of legislation requires a substantial amount of education and research, something most parliamentarians are not eager to undertake. Despite having the legal right to participate in the legislative process, they lack of the enthusiasm or knowledge to actively engage in it. Even with the constitutional provision that any citizen above 25 years of age and in good health can become a parliamentarian, the lack of academic qualifications becomes a hindrance. In our existing laws and constitution (Article 66), there is no restriction on educational qualifications, making it difficult for the democratic system and the parliament to function effectively.
The question of why there is less interest among MPs in the legislative process may be due to the fact that many MPs don’t want to engage in the necessary education and research required for the legislative process. Some may find the proposed bill to be well-written, yet they do not read or do not want to understand it. Sometimes, even those with the educational qualifications do not cover it. Therefore, when an academic task like legislation is not known to those who lack knowledge in this field, it becomes challenging, sometimes impossible, and ultimately weakens both the parliament and the parliamentary system.
The question that naturally arises is, “What qualifications should individuals possess to enter Parliament?” In our country, there is a prevalent tendency for those with political familiarity or widespread popularity to pursue parliamentary positions, a trend that has its drawbacks. It is essential that every parliamentarian not only demonstrates political acumen but also possesses a solid educational background while being adept at securing the support of well-informed citizens. Leaders who have been actively engaged in politics for an extended period, and who assert their competence, should take the lead in reshaping this perspective to prioritize competence and knowledge over mere popularity or political experience.
Another limitation of our national parliament is Article 70 of the constitution. Normal thinking would suggest that a parliamentarian should have complete freedom to express their opinion for or against any bill, but Article 70 restricts the independent voting rights of parliamentarians against their party’s stance. This means that if a parliamentarian votes against their party, they will lose their parliamentary seat. This provision often discourages many parliamentarians from voting or being present.
This brings us to the conclusion that radical changes are needed in the attitude of parliamentarians towards their duties. The nation and the party’s history and tradition should be respected. Those who have knowledge and respect for the ideals should be involved in politics. The challenges faced by MPs in carrying out their duties, such as lack of interest, inadequate training, and limited educational qualifications, need urgent attention. Reforms in the selection process, training programs, and constitutional amendments are essential to bring about positive changes in the functioning of our national parliament. The role of parliamentarians should be more than just endorsing or opposing bills; it should be about active participation in legislative activities for the betterment of our nation and its democratic values.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.